Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Memo

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievment and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
                                                                                                                                 ~Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Last Ice Bucket

Just over a month ago, it was almost impossible to not see people from all walks of life drench themselves with buckets full of ice water and in some cases cubes of ice to raise awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I did not participate in the challenge because I really do not like to get wet at all, I was also not nominated by anyone and importantly, I thought it was rather bizarre that I would opt to subject myself to an ice-cold bucket to avoid giving to a cause.

The history of philanthropy is rather strong in the United States and some of the greatest philanthropists of our time are North Americans and so it was heart warming to see a return to that culture of giving. However, what I found unsettling about the ice bucket challenge was that it was just another opportunity for some to post videos to social media and jump on the hip bandwagon of the moment. I would argue that most people who did the ice bucket challenge have almost no idea what the letters ALS stand for, neither do they have an understanding of the basic etiology of the disease nor even know whom Lou Gehrig is, although that last part is unimportant. Still, as I saw scores of people continue to drench themselves and squeal in short video clips I became concerned about how much the ice bucket challenge was more about the people doing the drenching than the actual sufferers of the disease.

Surely, a lot of good has come out of the challenge, because so far, the ALS Association has received over a $100 million in donation, leaving the executives in the fortunate position of deciding what to do with the windfall. The donations pouring in are noteworthy because this time last year, the Association had only managed to raise $2 million. Yet, when put into perspective, ALS only affects a minority of people, as there are about 12,000 sufferers of the disease and most victims are white males and veterans. Thus, all things being equal, and given the percentage of donations that will fund research, visible gains might be recovered for sufferers of the disease with the hefty donations.

Yet, for all the good the campaign has done, I am still not a fan and became even more wary of the entire challenge after reading about a firefighter who recently died after having being electrocuted while helping to stage a massive challenge. When someone has to die for people to have fun raising money for a cause the entire premise is just plain unsettling. Further, it’s also upsetting because I am quite certain that few of those who gathered for that particular challenge or participated in others like it gave much thought to the disease once they got into some dry clothes and gloated over the response their videos got on social media.

If we truly care about a cause, I would assume that finding a remedy should consume a good deal of our time. I am very concerned about poverty and disease in Africa and hardly a day goes by that I do not ponder on what can be done and what lasting contributions I can make. As far as giving to causes, I do so without having to be cajoled into it or without the fun or lack thereof of being drenched in ice-cold water. And for certain, when I have the means to do more, I will do so. What bothers me though is that given the short attention span of our age and the tendency to jump on the next bandwagon, the donations may not be replicated in the coming years, and then what? For sure, most people are now aware of ALS and might be spurred to begin a new tradition of giving to the Association, but the converse might be the result and once the last ice bucket touches the ground, ALS and all it stands for will only be remembered as the fun activity that occupied a certain summer some years ago. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Sister, My Friend

Today my youngest sister Annette turned twenty-one. Perusing through the contact list on my phone, the name Annette and any other variations of it will not be found because I have her name listed in my phone as “Wally.” As a child, whenever she would pose for pictures, she would stand with both heels touching and her toes pointed out forming a triangle. I noticed walruses stood the same way and I began to call her a walrus and soon the name Wally stuck. I even bought her a beanie baby walrus named Paul. Today at midnight I called her to wish her a happy birthday and after I was done singing she mentioned being surprised that I had sang the birthday song and called her “Annie” instead of walrus. I told her it was a new year and I wanted to begin it with her real name.

I remember going to the hospital the day she was born, a few months after I started high school. I still have very vivid memories of being in my uniform and holding the tiny infant in my arms as I sat on the edge of the hospital bed. Over the years, I would always take a lot of pleasure in taking care of her and just doing my best to be a good big sister. As Annette grew I enjoyed going to her schools, both elementary and middle just to have lunch and attending her orchestra recitals and plays in both middle and high school. We would make trips to museums, a ton of events in the city of Atlanta and to the movies. It was with Annette I saw Hotel Rwanda, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ratatouille and a ton of other movies.

Shortly before I went to graduate school, while I was studying for the GRE I took her to a restaurant and she experienced her first big girl moment of ordering from a menu. She ordered fettuccine alfredo and a Sprite. I was hoping she would order a glass of water. Did she know how dry my bank account was? When I lived in Denver, shortly before I moved back home to Atlanta, we spent about a week touring the city and just having a plain good time. I remember at the time I asked what she like the most about Denver and she replied that she enjoyed eating out everyday and not having to worry about doing dishes.

While I lived in Denver I spent hours on the phone going over homework and countless others editing papers. Not that she really needed my help, because she is a great writer herself and currently works at the writing center at her school in addition to writing for the school newspaper. Then it came time to go to college and the college essay writing and review process began. As I reviewed essays I was shocked when she sent an essay my way to review, and the essay was about the impact I had on her life. It was humbling, but beyond that it gave me a feeling I will never forget. She did go on to attend my alma mater, Emory University where she is excelling beyond measure, but not before she won the Bill Gates Millennium scholarship and the Atlanta Journal Constitution Award for being the best all round student at her high school. I remember taking her on a tour of the campus after she got accepted and introducing her to my career counselor who is still a good friend and has become her friend as well.

My sister Annette is kind and wise beyond her years. She is very intelligent, bright, diligent, super hard working and focused. Importantly, she has a growing and steadfast relationship with God, which I believe is the best part about her. Even though I am eleven years older, I look up to her in many ways and go to her for advice about really important life issues. We talk about everything and no topic it seems is off limits. She has given me some really great advice in some trying times in my life, has steadily encouraged me and has listened to me pour out my heart over just like a good sister friend would.

When I read our text messaging log, I can’t help but smile. We pretend to be rappers some days, have long drawn out philosophical debates on others and whom else would I share a picture of the lady with three boobs if not her. Sometimes, all it takes is an emoticon to communicate how we feel. If I took the time to list all the memories we’ve had, I’d be writing all day. We have had so many amazing adventures together. Last year as I studied for the bar exam, we toured Dallas, making stops at the Bush Presidential Museum, Sixth Floor Museum, the stock yards in Fort Worth, mall hoping and amusing ourselves trying on engagement rings worth almost half a million at Harry Winston.

Just last week, I got this text message from her that read, “Missing you and wondering if we’ll ever be living in the same city again.” I replied “Awww Annie! I miss! you too. I wonder if that will happen again. God knows all. Miss and love you!” She replied, “Love ya.” I still carry notes she would write to me as a child and one of my dearest possessions that I take everywhere is a hand written card she made for me when she was probably about seven. You have friends and then you have friends and if you are lucky, you have a sister like I do who is your friend. I can’t wait for all the great things I know she will go on to accomplish because I know for a fact that she will. It’s my celebration too as I recall sweet memories with great fondness of a little walrus who was born on September 22.

Happy Birthday to you Walrus!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Don't Pick Your Wedgie on an Elevator

Over the last few weeks, elevator cameras have become the new big brother and have proven that even those on high can be brought low or at least exposed. When elevator cameras showed the now epic fight between Solange Knowles and rapper Jay Z, the world became aware of the potential fault lines in the Knowles Carter clan. For most, the elevator fight was proof that the perfect image that was presented to the world was merely a façade and a far cry from reality.

While it seems the story has gone away as the media has been inundated by other stories from the clan including how much they made on their recent tour to rumors about an impending divorce, the crux of the video that was brushed aside and lost under the weight of several memes and slapstick jokes was the violent attack that was the highlight of the video clip.

Then there was another clip. This time it was Desmond Hague, the chief executive at the helm of Centerplate, a catering firm that provides concessions to sports and entertainment venues with a roster of clients that includes Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The forty-second elevator clip shows Hague repeatedly kicking a puppy and at one point jerking on the leash so hard that the puppy was thrown in the air. His excuse, minor frustration with the puppy. Until the elevator clip was released, I had never heard of Centerplate or Hague for that matter. Not knowing much about Hague, it is hard to speculate about his tendencies or character, however, it is almost safe to say that Hague felt comfortable abusing a helpless puppy in what he thought was a space where his acts would go unnoticed.

Unlike the Knowles Carter clan who could release short video clips of an upcoming concert to divert attention away from their elevator brouhaha and Centerplate, which no one seriously cares about, the elevator incident that seems like it is here to stay involved domestic violence and importantly, the NFL, which a great percentage of Americans do care about. The video clip that just only became public fodder shows Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens violently throwing a punch at this then fiancée Janay Palmer and knocking her unconscious.

What’s interesting in all these elevator attacks are seemingly normal people becoming violent in confined spaces they believe provide some semblance of privacy. Interestingly, the nature of the attacks are almost comparable to people who use the restroom and fail to wash their hands because no one is watching or people you see driving down the freeway while violently digging inside their noses with their free hand. Violence in all forms are an age old human tendency and I firmly believe that all humans will respond violently if they are in situations where they believe violence is the only recourse. Pacifism aside, innate violence is something all humans share across the board but there is rarely an excuse for violence. I understand that sometimes we can be provoked and in those moments, the only appropriate response is to attack physically until the anger is spent. But rather than violent outbursts solving problems, they only create fresh ones.

With the attacks in the elevators becoming public, one can only speculate as to how many times there have been physical fisticuffs in the Knowles Carter household or how many times Palmer has been pummeled by Rice. But beyond violence, the larger problem is uncontrolled, irrational acts meant to be private that become public. Why do we do some things in private that we would never do in public? The camera footage aside, it is almost fair to guess that Hague walked out of the elevator and patted the puppy with so much love, staged for the benefit of onlookers. Likewise, the Knowles Carter folks would have continued on, painting a picture of perfection when in essence they were covering up layers of dysfunction. 

With social media, it is even easier to live a double life; the life that is carefully curated with visits to fancy restaurants and exotic vacations on display while the days spent recovering from a black eye or bruised lip, the result of a violent attack are not displayed. Shouldn’t our lives be a continuum of some consistent kind of behavior, hopefully good behavior? Why should we have a game face and another face? Yes, there is room to be oneself, and I do not advocate being on all the time, but when so called private elevator attacks find their way to primetime news, it makes me wonder what demons people I encounter daily are shrouding.